Find the perfect balance of high-tech and low-tech in ELT

Technology is becoming an integral part of education represents something that seems to be inevitable. Our everyday lives are affected in almost every aspect by technology, be it home appliances or medical equipment, and not to mention all of the alternatives in personal communication devices. Technology has engrained itself in our society and because of this it is no surprise education is also part of it. I, for one, believe that technology brings an element of interactivity into the classroom that no other tool had done so far, so I love using it. I consider myself a tech geek and love finding new ways to include apps, interactive activities, BYOD lesson plans into my teaching, but at the same time, I am not blind to the difficulties, disadvantages and maybe even misadventures it could bring to my classroom. So, to be honest, I don’t think technology on its own is the only answer to changing education and engaging students. There must be a balance between high-tech tools (or notions) while not leaving behind the low-tech materials and props that can make your class unforgettable.

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Advantages to using high-tech

There are many advantages that jump out at you when you consider high-tech in an ELT classroom. Some of the obvious ones are having access to immediate almost unlimited resources, which is a huge time-saving tool for us, teachers. But let’s look at some other advantages that high-tech aids could represent for us.

  • Faster and mobile: Any activity, in theory, will be faster and mobile allowing students to interact, participate and move around while they do so. The fact of having technology on small devices like tablets and phones opens the door to the types of activities that we can plan.
  • Collaborative: Of course, being connected allows our students, ourselves and even fellow teachers to interconnect and collaborate in a way that they’ve never been able to before.
  • More engagement and motivation: Especially for younger learners who have been brought up around technology, learning through these devices seems to be more engaging, entertaining and motivational. Students will usually get excited about doing an activity in front of a screen rather than on paper.
  • Transferable technological skills: Today’s world needs more professionals that are tech savvy and feel comfortable innovating and finding new ways to change the status quo. With an increasing number of nomad workers and professionals, technological tools will come in even handier. Who knows, maybe that tool they used with you in class will come in handy down the line.
  • Learner independence: Once they learn how to use the tools, where to find the information and how to find what they need and want, they are free to do it on their own, as independent learners.
  • Integrate CLIL, project-based and content-based learning: In the case of any of the new emerging methods, you can easily integrate them into your curriculums with access to technology and devices in the class. It will make finding the content, sharing it and keeping track of student’s work relatively seamless.

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Advantages to using low-tech

When analyzing how low-tech activities can help in an ELT classroom, some teachers may feel it’s just easier to use tech, while others still prefer to make those flashcards themselves. I think low-tech tools for the classroom are just as beneficial to students and can bring their own advantages.

  • Hands-on activities: Our students are so used to doing everything on a device that some have even lost practice writing by hand, drawing or doing anything manual for that matter. This gives our students of all ages the opportunity to do hands-on activities that allow them to show and explore their creative side.
  • Promote face-to-face communication: Our society is becoming more and more isolated as our communication is reducing itself to social networks, even with family and close friends who live in the same city. Promoting activities that allow our students to interact in ways that don’t involve a screen will help their interpersonal skills.
  • Creative and critical thinking: Facing students with situations where they have to interact, discuss, debate and create with classmates will not only help them become engaged but will help them discover new skills that they will need later on in real life.
  • No budget, doesn’t matter: In many schools around the world, there is simply no budget to have a device for every child, or even one for the classroom, which leads to teachers wondering how they will ever engage and teach students. The fact of the matter is that with low-tech ideas teachers won’t have to depend so heavily on budget and lack of technological resources at schools.
  • Promotes resourcefulness: The fact of having to go “old-school” for a lesson plan may seem like something quite difficult, for those of us accustomed to using tech in our classrooms. In reality, not using it promotes resourcefulness not only for students but for teachers. We as teachers can also find benefits in figuring out ways to get our students to be engaged without using a device.
  • Transferable skills: By prompting students into an environment that promotes creative and critical thinking, hands-on activities and interpersonal skills, they will begin to see useful applications for them in real life. In fact, some of these skills are the ones that are lacking in many of our youth today, and in part this is because of their inability to develop skills in a context other than their devices.

 

Finding the balance

In cases where teachers do have access to technological devices for their students, it’s all about finding a balance. Blowing off low-tech activities all together can also be problematic for a number of reasons like not allowing students to develop their other real-life skills. On the other hand, for those who don’t have technology available to you and your students, don’t worry. At the end of the day, we are trying to get our students to acquire knowledge of the language through content and a series of skills, and this can be done just as well through low-tech or high-tech activities. Don’t underestimate the power of a paper and pen, the best ideas have come from notes that were written on a napkin. Let’s focus more on the content, rather than the mean used to deliver it. I have seen inspirational teachers get their message across to completely engaged students with little or no resources. Let’s dream big and find ways to make our students fall in love with English and want to become autonomous learners, independent if we use high-tech or low-tech resources.

 

Week #3: Are you using 21st century skills in the classroom?

In last week’s survey, which explored how you felt about  pair or group work, almost everyone agreed that they would organize groups or pairs depending on the activity or that they love when students work in groups and always let them choose who to be with. I think we can all agree that collaborative work will usually come with an enriched learning process, but at the same time, there are ways of working in pairs and groups that we can explore as teachers. By finding alternative ways of grouping students we can also bring to the classroom other elements that will allow students to truly be 21st-century students.

This week’s question

Continuing with understanding 21st-century skills in the ELT classroom, here’s the next question:

5 ideas for no more song fill-in-the-blanks. Part 2.

In a previous post I explored a different way to use music in the classroom. To check it out, click here. Here’s a look at some more ideas to use songs and music in class with your students that let us step away from the traditional fill-in-the-blank activity. Here they are:

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Soundtrack

Have students choose from 3-5 songs that they consider represent milestones or are important moments in their lives. The idea is to make a soundtrack for their lives, where they can not only investigate their songs, but also explain to the rest of the class why each song is important to them. I’ve found it helpful to make a step-by-step worksheet that will allow them to understand the project and complete it keeping in mind the language targets that I want to involve in it.

Round the world lyrics

For homework tell each student to bring a song they like, along with the lyrics. In class they should choose a line from the song and every student then goes up to the board and writes their line. If you have a small group (like I usually do) you can have them each bring in a few songs, or have them write two or three lines from their song. Then have the rest of the group guess the song by reading each line. Once the activity is done you can create a playlist and use these songs for your future activities.

Scratch that

Dictate 10 to 15 words from a song, then tell every student to choose 5 words. Once they have done this, play the song and have students scratch out the words from their list as they hear them. The first student to finish is the winner. This is a great warm-up activity before using a song in class. For even better use of the activity, make sure some of the words are related to the particular language target of the class.

Identify errors

Print out a version of the lyrics with some mistakes that are related to the language target. Have students identify the mistakes and write the correct phrase or word. When making the worksheet, make sure to leave spaces between each line so the students can write the corrections underneath the line.

Youtube videos

There are youtube videos that already have parts of songs with the grammar you need in class. These are great to either practice or introduce a topic. A good example is this one on gerund or infinitive I used recently in class.

There are many more ideas that I’ve used in class and will be posting later on. Stay tuned!